Allie’s symptoms, Timmy’s confession, and medical results of ongoing tests were conclusive. Allie was a victim of shaken baby syndrome.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
There are other names for it: abusive head trauma; shaken impact syndrome; inflicted brain trauma; violence on a baby. Causes are direct blows to the head, dropping or throwing a child, or shaking a child. The leading cause of death in child abuse case is head trauma.
The majority of victims are under a year old. They average from 3 to 8 months old. In 65 to 90 percent of cases involving shaken baby syndrome, the offender is male, typically in his early twenties. He is usually the baby’s father or the mother’s boyfriend, and he’s trying to make the baby stop crying. At first the baby cries more. But soon she stops as her brain suffers damage. The force of shaking a baby causes her little head to swivel violently beyond her neck’s natural axis because her muscles are not developed enough to provide support. Her brain moves violently inside the skull. Brain tissue is ripped and blood vessels rupture. As her brain swells, injuries are damaged further.
The effects can be partial or total blindness, hearing loss, seizures, developmental delays, impaired intellect, speech and learning difficulties, problems with memory and attention, severe mental retardation, and/or cerebral palsy.
The abuse can happen over time and go unnoticed because the child looks normal after being shaken. Maybe she doesn’t appear to have any of the above symptoms until after she is in the school system where behavioral issues or learning disabilities become more evident.
Sometimes the child dies from shaken baby syndrome. Sometimes she lives with all or most of the symptoms on the list.
Most of the time victims of shaken baby syndrome are boys that live in families in poverty. Sometimes the victims are little girls.
Other symptoms are hemorrhages in the retinas of the eyes, skull fractures, swelling of the brain, subdural hematomas, rib and long bone fractures, bruises around the head, neck, or chest. Children that survive shaken baby syndrome often need to go into special programs for developmental enhancement and education. Language, vision, balance, motor skills, and coordination are all affected, and intense physical and occupational therapy are needed. [source: KidsHealth.org]
It all sounds very scientific until a case lands in court. There are contradicting studies and schools of thought introduced into evidence in a defendant’s case to confuse and cast doubt. As case law goes, it’s slippery science. Evidence is circumstantial; no one should be convicted of shaken baby syndrome is what many doctors say, without undeniable, overwhelming evidence.
Because case law works this way, detectives, during Timmy’s confession, had him act out what he did to Allie. The confession was video taped. Asit Panwala, one of the many assistant district attorneys assigned to the case, described to me what he saw on the video during one of many phone calls. As Timmy demonstrated what he did, his facial muscles tensed as he clenched his teeth and set his jaw. The look on his face was one of determination, according to Mr. Panwala. The district attorney’s office turned the video over to the judge for viewing. Mr. Panwala later told me that the judge lost the video.
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